The Manual of Practical Homesteading: An Excerpt

John Vivian wrote The Manual of Practical Homesteading to pass on his knowledge and experiences of homesteading.


| January/February 1976



planning

In his book, John Vivian discusses how important planning and records keeping is in order to maintain a homestead and to becoming self-sufficient.


PHOTO: FOTOLIA/PETRO FEKETA

That old saw “Write what you know” may be a cliche by this time, but it's still a pretty good rule for authors and it gets broken more often than it should in the literature of the back-to-the-land movement. A happy exception is a new book from Rodale Press: The Manual of Practical Homesteading by John Vivian. John and his wife, Louise, are former city slickers who've spent the last seven years learning the hard way how to live on their land in central Massachusetts and the fruits of their experience are packed solidly into a 340 page guide that really lives up to its name. No one system is right for all areas or all individuals, of course, but the Vivians' gardening, stock raising, and food preservation techniques make a lot of sense for large portions of the U.S. and Canada and the couple's down-to-earth approach to their new lifestyle is a good model for settlers anywhere. 

With the end of holiday excitement and activity the tree goes out for the birds, the crust of the last wedge of pumpkin pie has become so soggy it becomes a treat for Horrible Pig, and the homestead slides into a new year. Like most everyone, we find the first few days of January a time for reflection and planning for the coming season. We begin gathering up the receipts and records and when the first seed catalogs arrive I find I'm beginning to plan gardens. But these have become fairly routine tasks by now and most January evenings in front of the living room fire are taken up in discussing the major changes we hope to make on the homestead and our life on the land.

It seems that as time goes by, the projects that we undertake are more and more decided for us by national and world events. Without the recent energy crisis, resulting in skyrocketing costs of power, our planning for an independent water or wind powered electricity generator would be a lot more iffy than it is. So would plans for a log splitter, a wood burning kiln to replace Louise's electric model, and a good deal more. It seems that the pace and severity of change keeps picking up with every passing month, this crisis or that shortage appearing suddenly to make dramatic change in all our lives. With each big change, of course, a homesteader's plans and priorities are affected, though not so drastically as if we were still townspeople. So, after the greenhouse is completed, I really can't say which project will be the next to be carried out. It depends on which will appear to make the most valuable contribution to the ever expanding partnership between us arid the !and.

Our Basic Goal

Our basic goal is to become as totally self sufficient as we can, as free from the money economy and the increasingly severe difficulties of living in a world with too many people and too few resources. Our planning envisions a future — a scenario, the futurists call it — where the United States will have run out of just about every resource but the most valuable, a proportion of the world's arable land that far exceeds our proportion of the world population. Louise and I agree with those economists and natural scientists who predict that within the next few decades the United States will become one huge farm producing (probably from improved soybeans) the protein to feed a hungry world of perhaps twice today's human population.

Food Security

This means that man's most elemental need, food, will increase in economic value to heights the world has never even imagined; perhaps a bushel of wheat will buy a barrel of crude oil or a new wool suit of clothes. In such a world small scale farming would again be a viable way of life for millions of American families, and we want to be one of them. Even if this scenario is dead wrong, we want to be able to produce most of our needs here on the homestead; no matter what the future holds for the world, we are convinced that the capacity for self-sufficiency and independence, even if unexercised, is the surest guarantee that life will continue to be good on our little corner of Creation. So, though future plans and projects are pretty mundane in themselves, each is part of a still evolving plan to establish a self-contained and environmentally sound "homestead of the future."

So much for generalities. The first item on the agenda is a very down-to-earth building, a greenhouse. We've carried lettuce through most of the winter in the cold frame, but salads get pretty skimpy by January. We want to have a complete winter salad garden with lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes all winter long. To date I've picked up some big fluorescent lights, a good neighbor has supplied a pile of old storm sash, and the plans are drawn up. Next winter we'll have it cranked up, insulated with sheets of plastic over glass and heated through a cellar window. I'm sure there will be some mistakes, but with experience we should never again have to put up with lettuce trucked all the way from California or a tomato that was turned red (not ripened) with chemicals.

sherrie ludwig
3/3/2013 2:17:06 PM

I'm so glad to have read your advice on record keeping. I'm going to make an effort at keeping some records as I start my "accidental homestead". I have never been a gardener, since I am one of those people who could kill plastic flowers, but I am trying this spring, with putting in an asparagus bed, some rhubarb, and horseradish. (All things we really like, which are expensive to buy) Also, as you may note, things which are perennial. (Lazy woman's idea, plant once and just keep it going). First time at gardening since a few carrots as a child.






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